In my early school years, I was always a top-ranking goody two shoes. Who consistently ranked 1st in class, was the teacher’s darling, and was not above sitting smugly with “fingers on the lips” when the teacher was watching. Switched schools when I got to 5th grade and suddenly I was the new kid on the block in this all-girls school where wearing mallipoo and eyetex was frowned upon. Was disoriented and distinctly uncomfortable in the new environment for several weeks (till I met my first best friend, R). Worst of all, though, there was the formidable art teacher, Mrs. S, who (rightfully) thought that my artistic skills were the suckiest thing since stale bread. So, suddenly, I was not the chick to beat anymore. I was fighting for my life (ok, something a little less dramatic) to make a passing grade in art just so I could get a rank – any rank – and not be written off with the red “F”. Three years passed in this sort of mild anxiety and depression over art, where I was constantly playing catch up (and sometimes, not catching up at all). I remember my lowest point in 7th grade, when I was ranked 31 (out of a class of 50). And felt pretty pleased that I didn’t flunk art. Pathetic, no?
Then came 8th grade. Suddenly, no more art class. I breathed easier, life was good, and I didn’t feel mild nausea few times a week just thinking of art class. Still, I didn’t bounce back to top ranker. Not right away. My best friend, D and I were sitting around in class after lunch one day – I suppose talking about what 8th graders talk about (Not Justin Bieber, I can guarantee you that. Was he even born then?). I overheard one of my classmates, Padma (Why the full name, you ask? Because it’s an important name.), talking to some others about smart girls in the class and speculating on who’s going to top the class that year. Idly doodling in my “rough” notebook (now that there was no more art class, I had no trouble drawing on my own watch), I heard Padma rattling off the names of potential high achievers in the class. The ones to beat – Anita, Sharmila, Sujatha. I, still not part of the conversation but very much listening, agreed in my mind. That’s right, those are all very smart and hardworking chicks, I thought to myself. Then I heard someone ask, “Well, what about Kavitha?” My ears perked up as Padma held up my name for a brief inspection. And dismissed it quickly – “Well, Kavitha, she’s a nothing. She’s never even going to rank within the top 10. I wouldn’t worry about her.”
As I think back, that single cavalier statement made by a classmate changed my life. My pride was deeply hurt, but what really rankled was that Padma was right. That moment, I decided to clean up. For the next few years, I studied like there was nothing else in the world. All that hard work cost me a ton of fun that I could have had socializing in high school (which I do think back upon with a little regret). But, the payback was big too. I ranked first in the state in Science in 10th grade (which I still think of as one of my highest achievements) and got my picture in the newspapers (although grainy picture now looks like mug shot of pickpocket). I breezed through college admissions, and easily secured spots in the state’s premier medical and engineering colleges, and had the luxury of saying no to med school.
All because of the girl who thought I was a nothing. And was not shy about articulating that within my earshot. Thank you, Padma, for that swift (and timely) kick in the butt that has made all the difference to me.